MOREHEAD, Ky. — In an effort to address healthcare workforce needs in Kentucky’s Appalachian Region, U.S. Rep. Harold “Hal” Rogers convened a roundtable discussion at Morehead State University on Tuesday, October 16, with leaders from all of the region’s hospitals and post-secondary education institutions.
Rogers invited several federal agency leaders to listen and offer expertise for available grant opportunities, including: Tim Thomas, Federal Co-Chair of the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC); Pamela Farmer, Kentucky Economic Development Representative for the Economic Development Administration; and Clay McKnight, Kentucky Area Specialist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture – Rural Development.
“I have been approached by more than one of you indicating that you can’t find the staff you need to efficiently run your hospitals,” said Congressman Rogers. “I understand travel nurses cost some of you millions of dollars each year, so I am wondering why we can’t train more healthcare staff in our own Eastern Kentucky educational institutions. Economic Development is not just about building factories and improving infrastructure. Economic Development is also growing our local workforce.”
“I currently have 184 openings at the hospital that I’m trying to fill,” said Donovan Blackburn, President and CEO of Pikeville Medical Center. “We are trying to fill the need, but unfortunately, it’s just not fast enough. We’re providing bonuses and pushing salaries up just to try to fill these jobs.”
Neil Middleton, Vice President and General Manager of WYMT-TV moderated the discussion and asked educators about their successes and what more they need to help generate more graduates in health-related fields.
“As your equipment changes in your hospital and care systems, so do we, in preparing our students for your institutions,” said Dr. Jay Morgan, President of Morehead State University who hosted the roundtable discussion. “If there is one thing that our federal agencies can help with in our communities, it’s our equipment.”
The Galen College of Nursing recently opened a campus in Hazard, Kentucky after developing a partnership with Appalachian Regional Healthcare (ARH) and local government leaders. Dr. Audria Denker led development of the new Hazard campus for Galen College and said more communication between the two industries is key.
“Kentucky can actually be a leader in nursing education. I have 240 nursing students in Hazard, Kentucky today who will graduate with no debt,” said Dr. Denker. “The students are able to integrate into the ARH culture before they ever graduate.”
Some educators said finding qualified faculty to educate nursing students can also be a challenge.
“For us, the nursing program challenge is finding more qualified faculty,” said Dr. Jay Box, President and CEO of Kentucky Community and Technical Colleges. “We’re very interested in a joint appointment. Our healthcare professors work for the colleges for nine months during the school year, and they often look for work at our hospitals during their three-month break. If we could establish a joint appointment for them during those three months, it would give us the opportunity to add the faculty we need, while sending back professionals to fill the hospital shortages.”
In addition to college graduates, some leaders suggested reaching more students during middle and high school to capture their interest in healthcare fields.
The federal agency leaders offered to help the organizations navigate programs that could benefit the healthcare workforce and boost economic development in our region.
“It’s great to hear from the people on the ground who are doing the work first-hand. It hits right at the very heart of ARC’s mission to improve our Appalachian region and build a stronger workforce,” said Mr. Thomas, who asked about future investment needs in the field.
Congressman Rogers wrapped up the meeting with a call to action for SOAR – Shaping Our Appalachian Region and Executive Director Jared Arnett to lead an action team to focus on implementing programs and opportunities to advance workforce needs for the healthcare industry in Eastern Kentucky.
Following the roundtable discussion, Congressman Rogers and Tim Thomas addressed MSU students, faculty and community leaders at the first-ever “W. Terry McBrayer Presidential Lecture Series” on campus. They shared their vision for the future of Appalachia.
Roundtable participants from the healthcare industry included: Joe Grossman, CEO of Appalachian Regional Healthcare; John Ballard, CEO of Kentucky River Medical Center; Donovan Blackburn, CEO of Pikeville Medical Center; Anthony Powers, President of Baptist Health Corbin; Chris Self, CEO of Manchester Memorial Hospital; Kristie Whitlatch, CEO of Kings Daughters Medical Center; Mark Neff, CEO of St. Claire Medical Center; Matt Harr, COO of Highlands Health Systems; Greg Kiser, CEO of Three Rivers Medical Center; Stephen Oneal, Chief Nursing Officer of Saint Joseph London; Steve Estes, CEO of Rockcastle Regional Hospital; and Mike Rust, Executive Director of Kentucky Rural Hospital Association.
Educators who participated in the roundtable included: Dr. Jay Morgan, President of Morehead State University; Dr. Burton Webb, President of University of Pikeville; Dr. Chris Leskiw, Vice President and Chief Academic Officer of the University of the Cumberlands; Dr. Marcia Hawkins, President of Union College; Dr. Audria Denker, Executive Vice President of Galen College of Nursing; Dr. Jay Box, President of Kentucky Community & Technical College; Dr. Sherry Zylka, President of Big Sandy Community & Technical College; Dr. Jennifer Lindon, President of Hazard Community & Technical College; Dr. Vic Adams, President of Southeast Community & Technical College; Dr. Steve Vacik, President of Maysville Community and Technical College; Dr. Larry Ferguson, President of Ashland Community and Technical College; and Dr. Carey Castle, President of Somerset Community College.